Gets Real: Bumbershoot returns with new internship program focused on diversity

SEATTLE — Bumbershoot returns Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 2 and 3, after a three-year hiatus during the pandemic, and this year, the festival has a group of interns working behind the scenes through the new Bumbershoot Workforce Development Program.

At the Crocodile venue Madame Lou’s, KIRO 7 went behind the scenes to see the work of some of the interns before a show.

That includes everything from rearranging chairs and getting wristbands ready to greeting the band and giving them the lay of the land.

Dusan Murray-Rawlings, 24, just finished his internship with the Crocodile. By day, he works at Amazon as a treasury analyst, but by night, he was working before and during these shows.

Murray-Rawlings said he’s always had a passion for music; he started deejaying when he was in high school.

“It was when I got to college where I started to realize that…you actually could make a career path out of that,” he said. “Just like being a part of the concerts, nightlife slash events world in general.”

After moving to Seattle about a year ago, he found out about the Bumbershoot program: six months, tuition-free, for young people from ages 17 to their mid-20s interested in a career in the live music business. Bumbershoot had an internship program back in the early 2000s, but this is an all-new version.

“Showing them every single part of what actually makes it work and actually paying for that, too,” Murray-Rawlings said.

Bumbershoot partnered with The UC Theatre to expand its Concert Career Pathways Extension program remotely for the Bumbershoot interns. The program includes helping with the Bumbershoot festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“Our whole motto is, the festival is a classroom,” Executive Director of Third Stone, James Miles, said. Third Stone is the nonprofit that runs Bumbershoot.

“The goal is in ten years they will be running the festival and it won’t be a bunch of middle-aged cats doing this anymore,” he said. “It’ll be people in their twenties and thirties that know what they’re doing.”

So how do 16 interns from across the Sound get there?

Miles said after online workshops, they move on to shadow shifts and internships at venues including the Crocodile, the Triple Door, Climate Pledge Arena, and the Gorge Amphitheatre.

“Set up, tear down, sound design, moving the lights, adjusting sound levels, some maybe even working the shows,” Miles said. “Selling tickets, working in the development space. All right, if we sell this many tickets, how much money do we have to raise to make sure that, you know, our books are solid? That includes financial literacy.”

“Why is a program like this so important?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.

“One, we have a population of people working backstage production that are retiring or unfortunately have passed away during COVID or moved out of state because of the rising cost of living here. So, there’s a workforce pipeline that’s pretty empty. Add to that fact that most people working in festivals, 86% are white and male,” he said, citing a Zippia report.

“Why do you think that is?” Sheldon asked.

“It’s just, I hate to say this, but a good old boys’ club,” Miles said. “You know, you hire the people that you know, and those generally look like you.”

So this program, he said, is about diversity.

“Fifty percent of our students are femme-identified, 86% are of color, 75% come from low-income communities, 19% are from the LGBTQ community. So we’re already changing the trajectory of the workforce.”

A Zippia report specifically digging into data on concert promoter jobs found 33.1% are women and 66.9% are men, while 54.% are white and 15.7% are Black or African American. The average concert promoter’s age is 45. Data on lighting designers, production designers, and sound designers also shows disparities.

Murray-Rawlings has already had some eye-opening experiences, like working with Flame Productions on the Blink-182 show at Climate Pledge Arena.

“It was just incredible,” he said.

He cannot hide his excitement about Bumbershoot.

“It’s going to be so fun, OK?” he said. “There’s going to be a cat circus, right? There’s going to be like, witches. There’s going to be great music. Sleater-Kinney is performing. Are you kidding me?”

He’s already thinking about how to bring the music business and his current career together in some way.

“What things have surprised you about what you’ve been learning?” Sheldon asked.

“How much your relationships matter, honestly,” he said. “Like everything that you would like to do. All the doors that could open or close. It depends a lot on your relationships… It’s really just generally, about like, are you a decent person? Can I trust you and are you genuine, yes or no?... Can you learn? And if you can do that, like we’ll go from there.”

If people want to learn more about the Workforce Development Program, Bumbershoot advises them to go here and sign up for the newsletter.  Applications for next year’s group will be live this winter.